- Dancing Bahia: Essays on Afro-Brazilian Dance, Education, Memory, and Race ed. by Lucía Suárez, Amélia Conrado, and Yvonne Daniel
The scarceness of scholarly works in English about Brazilian cultural production is just one reason to celebrate the release of this edited volume on Afro-Brazilian dances. Bringing together Brazilian and North American based professors, dance performers, activists, and researchers, Dancing Bahia: Essays on Afro-Brazilian Dance, Education, Memory, and Race offers the English-speaking reader a fruitful avenue to understand the cultural significance and the political dimensions of African matrix dance as practiced and taught in contemporary Brazil.
The book is divided into four parts, each one focusing on slightly different aspects of the relationship between the cultural legacies of African matrix culture, the multi-layered Afro-Brazilian identity, and the role of dance—and its pedagogy—as a political gesture. The eight essays that constitute the book provide a multifaceted, first-hand account of inspiring initiatives aimed at preserving and honoring African heritage, promoting social inclusion, and combating stereotypes. Along the way, the authors wisely point out the various obstacles that prevent the practice and teaching of dance to fulfill its potential, including social prejudices, poor physical infrastructure, police repression, hyper-eroticization, urban violence, and commodification.
As the introduction underlines, African-descendants in Brazil "remain disproportionately poor and marginalized" (11) and "black stuff" (5)—despite being deeply-rooted in Brazilian society—continues to be regarded with contempt (if not with sheer hostility). That is why the initiatives discussed in the book go beyond the artistic field. By reenacting the traumatic history of the diaspora and exalting the Afro-descendant body, the cases examined represent very needed acts of political defiance, collective strength, and personal empowerment. Richly researched and theoretically sound, the articles in this volume provide a valuable historical background of the struggles of blacks in Brazil from colonial times to present days. The book also traces the recent history of dance institutions and organizations in Bahia and considers the implications of a 2003 federal law that mandates the inclusion of African and Afro-Brazilian history and culture in the school curriculum.
Adopting an interdisciplinary perspective and sharing an informed and personal viewpoint, Dancing Bahia successfully reveals how the practice of dance in Northeast Brazil has been able to defy the status quo and promote [End Page 147] community bonding, self-confidence, cultural resistance, and social change. Because dance in black culture embodies spiritual and ethical values and arouses feelings of social connectedness, the authors suggest that Afro-Brazilian dance requires a pedagogical approach capable of offering a holistic corporeal education that can foster what Pilar Echeverry Zambrano calls "emancipating seeds for life" (91).
Just as importantly, the book showcases a wide variety of dance expressions, which convey a clear sense of the vitality of the African heritage in Brazil. Dealing with genres such as maracatu, nego fugido, capoeira, marabaixo, samba de roda, and maculelê, Dancing Bahia also broadens the vocabulary and the canon of dance studies and alerts unsuspecting readers to the vibrant dance scene that exists in Brazil well beyond Carnival.